mikebarrett

Jan 04

Blazers Improve to 2-1 on Trip

By mikebarrett Posted in: Grizzlies

You never over think a win away from home.  You take breaks when you get them, and don’t sweat it if a victory isn’t as attractive as you would have liked.  A road win is a road win.

The fact that the Trail Blazers have now recorded two wins on this difficult four-game trip means they are now playing with house money.

It’s time to get greedy.

I heard the predictions many people were making before this trip began, and they were understandable.  New York had been 12-2 at home, Toronto had won 7 of its last 8, and Memphis was 13-3 at home.  One win would have probably been acceptable.  A split of the trip would be cause for celebration, but three wins?  Well, no need to go there just yet.

On Friday night, the Trail Blazers faced a Memphis team without one of its big guns.  Zach Randolph was battling flu-like symptoms, and was a game-time decision.  We learned just before we hit the air that he was ruled out completely.  It’s always a mixed blessing when this happens right before a game.  Yes, it was a break for Portland, but it does often open the door for someone else.  And, it always invites an “x factor” into play. 

Memphis has a pretty capable backup at the power-forward spot, and Marreesse Speights put up Z-Bo-type numbers.  He ended with 22 points and 13 rebounds, but the Blazers were able to grind out a hard-earned victory.  Portland doesn’t often win ugly, as we’ve talked about, but they did it in this game, beating the Grizzlies 86-84.  It’s the lowest point total in a win for Portland this season.

The Blazers also rarely win when they don’t shoot well.  They came into this game 12-1 when shooting just 45 percent or better.  That sounds impressive, but that simply illustrates how much pressure they put on the offensive side of the ball.  They win games with offense, not with defense. 

One thing that did hold true was the stat that reflects Portland’s record of success in close games.  They are now 8-2 in games decided by six points or fewer.  Memphis, on the other hand, fell to 0-6 in games decided by five points or fewer.  That’s fairly surprising given the 20-9 record they had going into this game.

The Trail Blazers are now not only 2-1 on the trip, but have improved to 17-15 on the season, 11-5 since the start of December, and have inched up a spot in the Western Conference.  Yes, it’s still early, but they now sit in the 7th position in the conference.  There aren’t many people who expected that, even considering the fact that we’re in early January.

We’ve said many times this season that it’s a process- learning a new system, adapting to a new coach, and integrating new, young players.  But, this recent trend is very encouraging.

This game was expected to be a low-scoring, defensive struggle.  The first three quarters were certainly that.  The fourth quarter was simply a slugfest.  Early in the season Portland didn’t win games like this.

The Blazers shot just 41 percent in this contest, and shot just 67 percent at the free-throw line.  But, after allowing Toronto to shoot 53 percent on Wednesday, Portland tightened up defensively, allowing Memphis to shoot just 40 percent as a team.

Portland held a two-point lead in the closing seconds, and clinched the victory with another defensive stop.  Rudy Gay had a chance to send the game to overtime, but his off-balance heave from the top of the key was well off the mark and the Blazers ran to the locker room, and shortly after, to the airport.

It took Wesley Matthews a couple of games to get his offensive back, and it was badly missed when he was out.  Matthews carried the Blazers early in the third quarter, when the Grizzlies were threatening to build a lead, and ended the game with 21 points, and hit 5 of his 8 three-point attempts. 

For Portland to win this game, or even stay in it, we said before the game the frontline had to come up big.  As it turned out, both LaMarcus Aldridge and JJ Hickson each ended with double-doubles.  Aldridge had 15 points, 12 rebounds, and 5 blocked shots.  Hickson ended with 19 points, 11 rebounds, and hit two clutch free throws in the final minute.

Damian Lillard, who was the focus of the Memphis defense, finished with 11 points, 8 assists, and 5 rebounds, and Nic Batum, who had his hands full trying to contain Gay, ended with 11 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals.

As described above, the trip has already been a success.  That made it even nicer to hear the players talking about nothing but the Minnesota game as they were getting on the plane to fly to Minneapolis.  They know what was expected of them going into the trip.  They’ve already been surprising, and now hope to make it 3 of 4.

16 Comments

  1. Hey Mike: I am so glad to get your blog.
    This was a game inside a game. We had to keep a scratching clawing Memphis team off the free throw line but at the same time try to shut them down in the paint.
    It was a great game, well played and hard hitting.

    I had to be honest, I was hoping for two and two, expecting none or maybe one. a guaranteed 2 I will take.
    I liked Joel's hustle and energy.
    I missed Leonard, he would have gotten valuable experience against Gasol.

    by Hg on 1/4/2013 10:05 PM
  2. Yea Mike, I think I'm one of the only people who predicted the Blazers would have a successful season in light of all the changes they made, but I said they would win 42 games and I will stick to that prediction. That will be success for them "this" year. Here's one more prediction for the season. Lillard will have a 35 point 10 assist game before the season is over with.

    by Derek Thompson on 1/4/2013 10:29 PM
  3. Hey HG...NOW we are in second place in our division!!! LOL I think I have it right this time ;-) This was one of those games you could see that it might get ugly at any time for us, but we keep chipping away and our defense really shined tonight when it had to. I was amazed how we shut them down in the 4th quarter...especially against a very good home team! Very proud of them all and this season continues to be more then I ever expected. We still need some good bench play offensively but because of good defense we didn't loose much ground when they were in! Now let's hope for a 3-1 road trip because if I remember correct 10 of our next 12 are at home? Could be a huge turning point this season for us. RIP CITY ;-)

    peace out,
    daddylogan

    by daddylogan on 1/4/2013 11:24 PM
  4. Great win tonight. I am very impressed with how we have been playing lately, especially on the road. Tomorrow could be huge; we need to win those games against teams close to us in the standings, for obvious reasons. Go Rip City!

    by El Undelador on 1/4/2013 11:44 PM
  5. @daddylogan: You sure can, and 7th in the Western Conference.
    I am still going with just learning, but they are learning fast. I have to listen to opponents announcers, and let me tell you all but a few knows how good the Blazers and Lillard is. Every game all I hear is stop Lillard and you stop the Blazers. Not true is it?
    We learned we could play the grind it out games when we played Philly, Mike didn't believe we could play that style then and still doesn't. I am sure glad the team learns faster then him LMAO, Sorry Mike; anyway I knew if the good Blazer team showed up we could win, and I was sure the bad team wouldn't show up two games in a row.

    For what ever the reasons for playing badly against Toronto is a mystery, but I figured out much of it. If I was to pick one out of four games to rest in, it would have been Toronto. Of course we may not win tomorrow night as we know Minny will be up and ready to take it to us. but I bet we will be ready to play. We know Minny and their coaching staff better then they know ours now and that wasn't the case last year. Anyway, I can't wait for the game.

    Boy, welcome back Wesley, I had forgotten how much you can produce.

    by Hg on 1/4/2013 11:49 PM
  6. I wonder how loud the boos will be in Minnesota tomorrow for Nicolas Batum.

    by Shem on 1/5/2013 1:03 AM
  7. @Shem:
    Actually there shouldn't be any boos. He accepted the offer that Minny gave him; the Blazers had the right to match it, which wasn't of Nic's choice. Much like Indy did to us.

    by Hg on 1/5/2013 1:18 AM
  8. Loved the game last eve.
    The Trailblazer's confidence is at an all time high. Go men!
    Glad Wes is back. Glad there are a lot of go-to players. Saves LA from being pounded as in late last year. Looking forward to the game tonight.

    PS Congrats to Damian for the back to back rookie of the month nod. Fun that BRoy is the only other with similar honors.

    by allie-oop on 1/5/2013 10:07 AM
  9. Roles well-defined. Roles player-accepted. Balanced scoring. Improving defense.
    Shines on the coaching staff.
    Trust. Ego-less. Desire to work as a team.
    Shines on the players.
    This is such a fun team. You can have your flashy high flying dunk machines. Or superstar NBA darlings. I'll take our guys. Team play makes basketball a beautiful game.
    Have to throw in on JJ. I saw your post game interview. What a great attitude. He is having fun wearing a Blazer jersey. I cast my vote right now for most improved player for entire NBA.
    Love the way LaMarcus has been rebounding lately. He worked on it in the off season and it's starting to show.
    Batum is trying to be a pass first guy. It's a step in progression. One day he will balance it and know when to go and when to pass. For now I will overlook his ill advised decisions.
    I am happy for Paul. What the Seahawks and Blazers are doing. I'll say I don't agree with everything he has done over the years but he has stayed the course.
    Good times in Blazer land.

    by the golden ladder on 1/5/2013 10:22 AM
  10. @the golden ladder: This is a very fun team. I won't say it is completely ego-less, as Batum is stats hunting, but that is partly due to a bruised ego since he was drafted. Batum was more or less forced into being a facilitator; Wesley being out, gave the opponents a green light to key on Lillard, and that forced Batum into another role, Although he made some ill advised decisions, he made quite a few well advised decisions so it probably balanced out already; we just remember the bad longer then the good; I agree that will improve and his progression will be valuable. One thing is this fast pace and player movement’ there are going to be many errant passes thrown until the team gels and gets more synergy. IMO, the secret is not to buckle under because of the turn-overs, but to keep this style up and buckle down on defense as they did last night. I would also say like NYK's but I am not sure just how much I would give to the Blazers for winning or the Knicks in just mailing it in thinking they could beat us in the last six minutes of the game or so. Remember NATE. If you mess with the game the game will mess with you; Maybe like Toronto???????

    by Hg on 1/5/2013 11:05 AM
  11. @Hg:
    If there is one team I enjoy the Blazers beating, it"s the Knicks. I wish Felton would have been on the floor for the beat down.
    Speaking of Nate. Nate ball and Stotts ball appear to come from two different planets. Why is Nate not working ?
    I want this win tonight. The Wolves are not on my happy list.

    by the golden ladder on 1/5/2013 11:29 AM
  12. Nate is too old school with ISO, offense, it just doesn't work in the modern NBA. He was needed to control ZBO and Miles, but not this new generation of players.
    I don't Knock Nate, I don't knock Stotts, we just play with what we have and that is Stotts, comparison is not needed.

    I like beating NYK's also, and if Felton would have played that would have been better, I think Lillard would have made Felton look horrible. Maybe Felton knows that.

    I would love dearly for this game tonight, but not because of me being down on Minny, but because I like them with Adelman and Porter. and my respect for them. beating them on their own turf, they are in our division and only 1/2 game behind us would make for a good motivator.

    by Hg on 1/5/2013 11:41 AM
  13. hey MB! thanks for bringing us your recap so quickly; were you writing parts of it DURING the game? kidding, of course. i write this as my family is driving north from orange county so please forgive any Droid-induced typos!

    got to follow this one last night and was impressed with our tenacity. even without Zebo, the Grizzlies are formidable, just look at the game Speights had in his place - very Zebo-like numbers. Gasol really didn't hurt us on the offensive end of the court; his point were pedestrian and his rebounding not nearly a game-changer. he had a huge effect on the defensive end with those blocks and presence inside.

    despite that, it seemed like we did our fair share of attacking the basket and when nothing was there, kicking it out to an open guy. i thought we shot pretty well from the 3-pt. line, which i believe helped quite a bit.

    got to give some props to Wesley for finding his shot after the injury, and JJ was once again a monster. can't forget LaMarcus either, of course. you could tell he was battling and his double-double shows just that. i have to say, i'd really like to see Damian shoot better than he has been. last night against Conley could have been an opportunity for a special night. i do, however adore those eight assists. Joel played some tough minutes out there; really like the improvement we're seeing there.

    as i stated in the last blog, 2-2 would be a nice road trip; what would be even better would be 3-1. i'm hearing now that Love and Rubio won't play tonight. this is something we really need to take advantage of we've already seen these guys this season so it shouldn't be unfamiliar territory.

    regardless of the outcome tonight, we are guaranteed of coming back home still above. 500. that was my goal for the team heading into this trip.

    ~ KMM

    by Kassandra on 1/5/2013 1:18 PM
  14. Where was this team in Toronto? The big problem right now is consistancy to make the next step. In Toronto we looked exhausted last night we looked tired but determined.

    by Ancientone on 1/5/2013 4:12 PM
  15. This team wins close games. If we are in it down the stretch I like our chances. Is this our identity ? Nice.
    GO BLAZERS !!

    by Divotking on 1/5/2013 4:29 PM
  16. Adelman says ---
    lets take the ball out of Lillards hands
    double team LaMarcus
    keep JJ off the glass
    stay on Batum don't let him get hot
    guard Matthews on the 3 point line

    OOPS there's Babbit

    by Divotking on 1/5/2013 6:51 PM
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